DWR Press Release
The number of ducks counted on North American breeding grounds this past spring was the highest in 60 years. That’s great news for Utah’s hunters; it means more ducks than ever will migrate though Utah this fall.
But how long will the birds stay in the state? That’s a question many hunters are asking.
Blair Stringham, migratory game bird coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 49.5 million adult ducks were on breeding grounds in North America this past spring. That’s the highest number since the USFWS started conducting aerial and ground surveys in 1955.
“I’m excited about this fall’s hunt,” Stringham said. “It has the potential to be really good.”
In addition to thousands upon thousands of birds that will migrate through Utah, lots of ducks, especially mallards and cinnamon teal, were born and raised on the state’s marshes this year. Canada geese and tundra swans in the West are doing really well too.
The 2015-2016 general waterfowl hunt starts across Utah at 6:56 a.m. on Oct. 3.
Stringham said wetland conditions are excellent at almost all of the DWR’s waterfowl management areas (WMAs). At the federal Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, the refuge is fairly dry right now, but more water will flow into the refuge when the irrigation season ends at the beginning of October.
You can learn more about conditions at the WMAs at www.wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/hunting/hunting-information/waterfowl.html. A report for each WMA will be posted there during the week of Sept. 20.
Water conditions for the Bear River refuge will be available through the season at www.fws.gov/refuge/bear_river_migratory_bird_refuge.
If there’s one WMA hunters have been concerned about, it’s Harold Crane northeast of Plain City. The road to the WMA has been closed this summer as the Bureau of Reclamation works on the dike at Willard Bay Reservoir. Stringham has good news, though. The road has reopened and hunters will have access to the WMA this season.
How long will birds stay in Utah?
As the season approaches, Stringham is concerned about Great Salt Lake. The lake’s water level is approaching its historic low. The lower water level is providing ducks with fewer places on the lake to escape hunting pressure and rest. And marshes on the lake, that are outside of the WMAs, are starting to dry up. With fewer rest areas and less marsh on the periphery of the lake, birds might not remain in the state as long this year.
“Ducks use the lake and some of its more remote wetlands as places to escape hunting pressure,” he said. “The birds rest in these areas. Then, when it’s time to feed, they return to the freshwater marshes. This gives hunters another chance to take birds and keeps hunting good through most of the season. Having a place to escape hunting pressure keeps birds in the state longer.”
Even though ducks might not stay in the state as long this year, you can still have fantastic hunting if you’re in the marsh when new birds arrive. These birds, most of which have not been shot at since arriving in Utah, gravitate to the freshwater marshes where most of the hunters are.
“Storm fronts push birds out of the state, but they also bring birds in, so trying to be in the marsh as a storm front approaches is a great idea,” Stringham said. “And, even if storm fronts aren’t pushing birds in, birds still migrate in and stop in the marshes throughout the season.”
Scout before the hunt
On Sept. 17, all of the WMAs opened for scouting. Before the hunt starts on Oct. 3, Stringham encourages you to visit the WMA you’re going to hunt.
“Take a look at the habitat and the areas on the WMAs the birds are using the most,” he said. “If you scout ahead of time, you’ll know exactly where you want to go on the opener.”
Hunting over duck decoys is one of the best ways to bring birds in for a closer shot. And remember that a duck call usually isn’t needed. “If you set your decoys about 20 to 30 yards from you and then hide well, plenty of birds will come into your spread, whether you use a call or not,” Stringham said.
Make sure the birds can’t see you
Make sure you blend into your surroundings and try not to move as birds work your decoys or fly overhead. “If you wear camouflage and don’t move much, the birds won’t even know you’re there,” he said.
Bring waders and mosquito repellent
Invest in a good pair of chest waders. “Don’t rely on hip boots to keep you dry,” Stringham said. “Wear chest waders instead. With chest waders on, you can also retrieve birds that fall into water that’s over your waist.”
Using insect repellent is also important. “There are lots of mosquitoes in the marsh right now,” he said. “Make sure you use plenty of mosquito spray.”
Get your HIP number and a duck stamp
Before you head into the marsh on Oct. 3, make sure you have a Migratory Game Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP) number for this season. It only takes about 10 minutes to register in the program, but you must have a hunting license to register.
You can obtain your HIP number at www.uthip.com or by calling 1-877-882-4744.
In addition to your license and HIP number, if you’re 16 years of age or older, you must buy a federal duck stamp. You can get a duck stamp at your local post office. You can also obtain a stamp by calling 1-800-782-6724.
The cost for a duck stamp is $25 this year.
To learn more about hunting waterfowl in Utah, see the 2015-2016 Utah Waterfowl Guidebook. The free guidebook is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.
If you have questions about hunting waterfowl in Utah, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR’s Salt Lake City office at (801) 538-4700.